Big-Trip Boots: Trail Blazers

Get maximum support, traction, and protection without wafflestomper weight or break-in. Welcome to the new breed of all-terrain, any-load boots.

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

BIG-LOAD SUPPORT

Scarpa Barun GTX


Overall 4.9

It's rare for a boot to get a near-perfect score in a BACKPACKER field test, but this nubuck suede model managed the feat with an amazingly balanced performance: It earned the field's top marks for support and stability under big loads, and the highest score for out-of-the-box comfort. The polypropylene midsole is the stiffest in the test (good for heavy loads and edging), but the graduated flex and pronounced rocker (curve) make for natural striding. The high, snug-fitting cuff kept testers' ankles stable even in rooty, slippery conditions on Vermont's Long Trail and rocky ravines in New Hampshire's Presidentials. The traditional square-lugged tread shed mud and gripped well on all types of terrain, and the Gore-Tex membrane kept our feet dry. Fit favors medium to wide feet, but not one tester–regardless of foot shape or volume–reported toe bang or heel slip. Credit pivoting lace loops and ankle lacing hooks that are easy to tighten and that help customize volume, combined with ankle "cutouts" that relieve pressure on climbs and let you cinch the lacing without pinching. Our only gripe: The sole is so stiff it can feel a bit clunky when you roll off your toe at the end of a stride. $219; 3 lbs. 7 oz.; men's 38–47, 48; women's 36–43. (303) 998-2895; scarpa.com.

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

FAST & LIGHT

Kayland Convert

Overall 4.0

Don't be fooled by how light and nimble these boots feel when you first lace them up: They held their own against heavier boots in some of the roughest conditions we saw. One tester took the mostly suede Converts out of the box in Greenland, shouldered a 50-pound pack, and hit the trail for two weeks of slogging through marshy permafrost and stomping up craggy peaks. She reported plenty of support, and said the tread held firm on everything from rocks to roots to steep gassy hillsides. "And the eVent liner made the Converts the most breathable waterproof boots I've tested," she added. "They dried out fast even when the uppers got saturated." Testers raved about the innovative sliding ankle lace hook. It took a couple of tries to get the hang of it, but the result is a snug, custom-feel fit with excellent stability. Another smart feature: Fabric panels at the ankle allow for easy forward flex, maximum comfort, and easy break-in. The inset rubber toe rand resists scuffing and peeling, but several testers noticed some frayed stitching near the instep. Best for medium- to high-volume and medium to wide feet. $185; 3 lbs. 3 oz.; men's 7–14; women's 6–10. (603) 918-7395; kaylandusa.com

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

BEST FOR HARD MILES

Zamberlan Baffin GT

Overall 4.5

The Baffin's full-grain nubuck upper, armorlike toe rand, and best-in-test traction make this boot our choice for the toughest terrain. The aggressive Vibram sole, with its large heel lugs, held tenaciously on loose and crumbly descents in California and Nevada, and it shed mud and snow instantly. Though the Baffin's ankle is cut a tad lower than the Scarpa and Lowa models (but equal to or higher than others here), the padded cuff and extra-supportive heel cup provide plenty of stability for loads up to 50 pounds. The Gore-Tex lining kept our feet dry, even when one tester got rain-lashed in an epic storm in Ohio's John Bryan State Park. Fit was spot-on for all foot types: "A snug heel and ankle, with plenty of forefoot room and no toe-crunching on the downhills," wrote one tester. The Italian craftsmanship and full-grain leather promise years of hard-duty service. The only bummer: Testers had to wrestle with the thick, stiff tongue, and the bulky logo patch interferes with lace cinching. Best for medium-volume men's feet; narrow to medium women's. $245; 3 lbs. 5 oz.; men's 8–12, 13; women's 6–10. (925) 398-8453; zamberlanstore.com.

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

ALL-DAY COMFORT

Lowa Korba GTX

Overall 4.7

The highest compliment boots can get? Testers simply keep them on at the end of hard days. During back-to-back weeklong treks in Utah and California, that's exactly what one tester did, calling the Korba "as comfortable as a dayhiker." Credit the shock-absorbing polyurethane midsole, which alleviates trail fatigue, and the well-shaped ankle cutouts that, like the Scarpa's, relieve pressure and allow for full joint flex. The soft nubuck and Cordura upper is plenty supportive, and the padded cuff provides total lateral stability. Bonus: When the Korbas got saturated during Vermont's mud season, the leather/synthetic upper absorbed less water than most all-leather models do, so they didn't get as heavy and dried out more quickly. (The boot's Gore-Tex membrane kept water from seeping through the upper to our feet.) The Korba's lugged sole sheds trail gunk well and has good traction on all surfaces. Trivial but annoying: The laces frayed and were oddly too long. Best for medium-volume, narrow feet. $230; 3 lbs. 8 oz.; men's 7–12, 13, 14; women's 5.5–9. (888) 335-5692; lowaboots.com.

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

BEST FIT

AKU Lagorai GTX


Overall 4.0

Big-load boots don't get any more slipperlike. As one tester noted, "Wear them for a while and the cuff will soften, the forefoot will give slightly, and they'll conform to your foot as if they were custom made." Credit the super-soft leather in the ankle and tongue, which was easy on our ankle bones even when we laced the boots tight for downhills. Testers scrambled the slippery, slimy Great Range in Adirondack Park and then picked their way around the crumbly desert Southwest, and in all conditions reported great traction and ankle support. Underfoot protection is rock solid, thanks to the stiff nylon shank, but shock absorption is minimal; some testers reported sore feet after extra long days. The Lagorai's lace hooks extend farther toward the toe than most models, which helps accommodate a wider range of foot shapes. It also makes them easier to get on and off, and you can open them wide to speed drying. A Gore-Tex liner provides total waterproofing. Scramblers beware: The lack of a protective rubber toe rand allowed excessive wear on the leather. Best for medium-volume, medium-width feet. $210; 3 lbs. 8 oz.; men's 7–13; women's 5–10. (877) 864-7249; akunorthamerica.com.

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain

BARGAIN

Hi-Tec Peak II


Overall 3.5

The Peak II's price approaches dayhiker territory, but these boots can handle a weeklong trek. They have sneaker-comfort out of the box, with enough support for loads up to 40 pounds. They're best for hikers who favor trails over bushwhacking, due to less lateral stability and sole stiffness and a slightly lower ankle cut compared to other models here. The leather-lined collar cradled testers' ankles, and an ample cutout in the Achilles heel made them comfortable even for our two female testers (women tend to have lower, larger calf muscles). Testers loved the wide toebox, which accommodated end-of-day swelling, and the locking laces kept feet securely in place to minimize friction. After a wintry hike in New Hampshire, one tester reported good traction even on snow and ice. The Peak II's eVent membrane kept feet dry and proved supremely breathable. And the footbed had the best arch support in the test. Bummer: The tongue is cut oddly short–it tended to slide down below the laces, requiring frequent retying. Best for high-volume, wide feet. $150; 3 lbs. 8 oz.; men's 7–12, 13. (800) 521-1698; hi-tec.com.

Big-Load Support | Fast & Light | Best for Hard Miles | All-Day Comfort | Best Fit | Bargain